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A letter from Nancy Smith-Mather in South Sudan
Why Return to South Sudan?
In the lights, camera and action of our four-minute CNN interview, I missed the opportunity to explain something important to me. I left out the reason why I am excited to return to South Sudan, the reason I look forward to getting back to a place I left in such a hurry.
When making the decision to return, we knew the daily difficulties of living in South Sudan. I was keenly aware, however, that I did not know life as a parent to a young child in South Sudan. In the midst of what I knew and what I would discover in time persisted a pull to the place that cries loudly of the need for more miracles.
I will always think of our son’s birth story as a miracle that unfolded in front of my eyes. Jordan Eman arrived seven weeks early, three days before my flight back to the U.S., and he took his first breath in the country considered the worst place in the world to have a baby. In South Sudan “90 percent of women give birth away from formal medical facilities and without the help of professionally trained assistants,”[i] yet Jordan was born in a new hospital that opened the first month of our pregnancy. In South Sudan 25 percent of children “die from common, often preventable childhood illnesses before they reach their fifth birthday,”[ii] yet Jordan overcame a premature birth and difficulties breathing and maintaining his body temperature with the help of the only incubator in town and a makeshift breathing device. I cannot pretend to understand or try to explain why God intervenes to sustain life in some situations and not others, yet I know that God intervened in Jordan’s life.Continue reading
A letter from Yen Hee and Choon Lim in South Korea
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
Dear Friends in Mission,
At the beginning of my position as RL (Regional Liaison) for East Asia, I was struggling to make mission goals and projects. People, including our staff, asked me questions like “What are you going to do for East Asia, or for North Korea?” I answered, “At this point I don’t know, I will let you know maybe six months later.” Galatians 6:9 encourages me to do my new mission work. If I don’t give up or lose heart for East Asia, I will reap a harvest of blessing in God’s time.
I was eager to meet our partner church, UCCJ (United Church of Christ in Japan) and mission co-workers in Japan. I felt welcomed with a warm heart. Within nine days I went from the north of Japan—Sapporo—to the south of Japan—Nagasaki—and the middle cities of Japan—Nagoya, Kobe and Tokyo—where I met the general secretary and staff of the UCCJ. I would like to mention here a special thanks to Yodogawa Christian Hospital, which invited me to attend their grand opening of a new hospital before visiting mission co-workers in Japan.Continue reading
A letter from Cesar Carhuachin leaving soon for Colombia
Greetings in the name of the God of grace:
It has been more than three months since the 2013 Winter Orientation for new mission co-workers ended in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a blessing for me to have the opportunity of working together with one of our longtime church partners in Latin America, the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and with our ecumenical partner in Barranquilla, the Reformed University of Colombia.
Although I haven't left the States yet, I had the opportunity of participating via Skype in a panel discussion called “A Theology for the World Today” in the 2013 International Seminar and Annual Conference of the Reformed University of Colombia titled “Otra teología es posible: Invitación a la utopía” (“Other Theology is possible: Invitation to the utopia”) on May 16-17 with the Dr. Juan José Tamayo, a worldwide known theologian from Spain.Continue reading
A letter from Gordon and Dorothy Gartrell in Brazil
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
We are now serving the Lord in Pains, Minas Gerais, a small town in the state northwest of Rio de Janeiro. The Lord has called us to continue to work with the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU), but in a different location. We are very excited about our new location and the many possibilities before us. The church has been here for a long time and is highly respected in the community but has fallen back to 16 professing members. A few other youth and adults also attend regularly. It's been exciting to see how just presenting ideas has lit a torch and people have taken on a large part of the leadership responsibilities themselves.
On Mother's Day Dorothy gave the youth leader some ideas for the worship service, and the youth wrote and presented the service except for Gordon preaching. The pastor has been at the church for 22 years. She is a widowed mother of three youth, ages 15 to 20. This year we wanted her to celebrate Mother's Day simply as a mother. The service was very moving; their tributes to the women brought tears to everyone's eyes.Continue reading
A letter from Thomas Goetz in Japan
An Interview with Hiromi Takahashi
Hiromi Takahashi operates a coffee shop in Sapporo city near Hokusei Gakuen University where she ministers, counsels, and witnesses to all who visit.
Tom: Hi, Hiromi. Thank you for coming in today to share your faith journey. I know that many Americans are curious about how a Japanese would convert to Christianity. If you could just begin by sharing some of your memories, that would be wonderful.
Hiromi: Okay, try to place yourself in my situation. Had you grown up in Japan, you probably would have gone to shrines or temples at least once or twice to ask gods or Buddhas there for something good or desirable to you: health, money, happiness, safety, etc.
T: I would imagine so, it seems like there is either a temple or a shrine in every neighborhood.
H: That is true. Well, when I was young, I would go to visit a shrine to toss some money into offering boxes, put my hands together, and ask whatever was called by the name of "kami-sama" or "hotoke-sama" for what I wanted.Continue reading
A letter from Jed Koball in Peru
All the skillful women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun in blue and purple and crimson yarns and fine linen; all the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair—Exodus 35:25-26.
Jenny and I had been waiting in the coffee shop across the street from the United States Embassy in Lima for nearly three hours before Milagros finally emerged. Jenny jumped up from the table and ran outside to give her a hug. As the tears rolled down her face, Milagros said she fought as hard as she could, but in the end the consular agent would not grant her a visa to travel to the U.S. The reason she was given is that her "socio-economic situation" needed to improve. In other words, Milagros is considered to be too poor to be given legal entrance into the U.S.
Milagros was invited by the Broad Street Presbyterian Church (BSPC) of Columbus, Ohio, to visit and worship with them in Columbus before travelling together with members of the church to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT) this July, where she would be welcomed as a global partner. Jenny and I, together with the support of our friends from BSPC, had been working with Milagros for several months in preparing her for her big day at the Embassy: soliciting her first passport; guiding her through the online application in English; acquiring the necessary letters of invitation, itineraries, documents of financial support; developing a reasonable list of “proofs” that she had reason to return to Peru; shopping for new clothes for the interview; practicing her interview at least a dozen times (me playing the role of the officious consular agent!). On the morning of her interview, before travelling together to the Embassy, Jenny gave her a touch of make-up and a pair of silver earrings—giving her that last bit of confidence to play the part of one ready to travel to the U.S. In the end, the answer was simple and direct. The answer was NO.Continue reading
A letter from Sarah Henken, on home leave from Bolivia
In February I found myself once again in Barranquilla, Colombia’s carnaval epicenter, for the enthusiastic holiday celebrations. The streets pulsated with music at all hours of the day and night, and residents decked their homes, cars, and clothing with colorful characters of the season—marimonda and garabato, among others. Over the weekend at least one Presbyterian church held a carnaval-themed worship service, while others kept vigils to pray for the city. With such divergent responses from churches in the same denomination, what does it mean to bear Christian witness in this context?
For those who abstain from and criticize the festivities, carnaval (the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent) represents debauchery, excess, vice—signs of godless living to be rejected by those who know Christ’s saving work. Members of these churches often disapprove of drinking and dancing in general, seeing them as emblematic of immoral behavior unsuitable for those who would offer Christian witness in their living. The church where I preached on Transfiguration Sunday had held a morning fast the day before, with a Bible study at the church on the “true fast” described by the prophet Isaiah.Continue reading
A letter from Esther Wakeman in Thailand
In February, a few days before I left for the U.S.A., I met with Philip, a student of McGilvary College of Divinity at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I live and work. Philip is the newly elected president of Payap’s 6,500-member student body. After winning the election, Philip told me he wanted to help me with our new dorms—to make residential life better for our 1,400 students required to live there during their first year. I was eager to meet and hear his ideas because we need all the help we can get! I’ve known Philip’s parents for several years and appreciate their interest in helping people receive emotional healing through prayer—a passion we share. Over lunch I got to know Philip better. He’s bright and passed the entrance exam that gave him a spot in a more prestigious government school, but he felt called to study theology at Payap so he can use his gifts in serving the church; he also hoped to help spark and see significant spiritual renewal among his fellow students at Payap.Continue reading
A letter from Farris Goodrum on home assignment from Brazil
Greetings from Mission Haven in Decatur, Georgia. We are enjoying our home assignment very much, and have especially enjoyed many visits to churches to share about our mission work in Brazil. We always appreciate the interest of the home churches and are especially grateful to those who have faithfully supported our work over a period of many years.
In March a friend of ours from Brazil, Pedro Lisias Silva, came to spend 18 days with us, and we enjoyed his visit very much. Pedro is a seminary student at the Center of Theological Formation Richard Shaull, where Thelma and I were assigned to teach at the beginning of 2010. Pedro and his twin brother, Andre, were students of ours in a liturgy course that Thelma and I taught, and their father, Rev. Anacleto, is the pastor of the church where we were active in Vitoria before coming to the States in July. Pedro was interested in coming here, not just to visit, but to get to know something about the United States, and about the partnership between the PC(USA) and the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil. Pedro plans to serve the United Presbyterian Church as a pastor after completing his seminary course work.Continue reading
A letter from Doug Dicks in Jordan
Dear Family and Friends,
Sometimes when you complete a journey, you arrive at a place that looks very different from what you thought it was going to look like. You might be disappointed, or you may be pleasantly surprised. Either way, you should definitely be thankful for having arrived at your destination, safe and sound, and grateful for having had the experience of the journey.
Loss—and letting go—are part of life, and living. Change is an inevitable part of everyone's life, whether we welcome it or not. Yet in the midst of the changes in our lives—and the joys and celebrations, as well as the sorrow and the grief—God is ever present, and in the midst of it all.
Last July, and immediately following the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I received a call from our national headquarters, informing me that the position of Regional Liaison for Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Egypt—based in Jordan—would be terminated. The person who assumes this role will now be based out of Cairo, Egypt. And following a time of personal discernment, I have made the decision not to apply for the position in Cairo.Continue reading
A letter from Cobbie Palm in the Philippines
A God Moment
I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you (Genesis 17:7).
We all have those days wondering when God is going to step in to turn things around. In mission the results are not always immediately visible and there are days when we look to God with impatience. Then, just before we throw in the towel, God intervenes with a surprise that suddenly renews and lifts the spirit and we celebrate once again that we are involved in God’s mission.
I travelled 10,000 miles from the Philippines and walked into the lobby of Law’s Lodge at Louisville Seminary last March to begin the Discernment Event for the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program of the PC(USA). This is a program that provides young adults the opportunity to spend one year as a mission volunteer in placements in the United States or somewhere in the world. I was there to invite and be in conversation with young adults about volunteering in the Philippines after a 10-year sabbatical from the program.Continue reading
A letter from Sharon Curry in South Sudan
April 27 2013
Life is a Lot Like That…
I decided that life lately is a lot like a taxi drive in Addis Ababa. If you get on a mini taxi (blue donkey), it is supposed to hold 12 passengers but can usually squeeze in 14–16 plus kilos of fresh veggies in plastic bags stuffed between seats and the floor next to the door. I have ridden a few times when they produce was stacked as high as people’s heads and had to be pushed in to close the door. You usually start out with plenty of room but at some point in the ride you will be packed in like sardines or sitting on a wheel well or gas tank. I especially like the money-takers who hang their heads out the windows and yell the final stop on their routes—giving directions and inviting people in.
Life is a lot like that—we start out with plenty of space and a clear direction. Then somewhere along the line we are going to find ourselves very crowded or balancing on the edge. God is a lot like the money-taker—hanging his head out the window of heaven, giving us directions and inviting us in.Continue reading
A letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington in Zambia
May 18, 2013
We have a story of thanksgiving to share with you…mostly a story of deep thanksgiving, though with lessons learned, as well.
In early April our family was in the Cape Town area to attend a gathering of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers who minister in sub-Saharan Africa. Expecting it to be a busy week, we arrived a couple of days early to explore and enjoy the area a bit, and on the day the conference was to begin, we really crammed it in: hiked up some mountains behind the town, with Clayton and a couple friends going up one of the taller, steeper ones; pestered the kayak rental place on the lagoon until they opened up and rented us some boats; and went to the beach, a special treat for us since Zambia is a land-locked country.Continue reading
A letter from Tim Wheeler in Honduras
Easter time is a festive time in Central America. In many towns and villages there are reenactments of the last steps of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Good Friday is a day of reflection, of inactivity as people wait for it to pass and then feel that they can continue with their normal activities. Then people wait for the new hope of Easter Sunday, but most people really don’t have new tangible hope. What will be different? So many things are out of people’s reach.
A week before Easter I travelled to Guatemala and had the privilege of attending a “passing on ceremony.” Here there was real joy as project participants from the Heifer Guatemalan project passed on offspring to new participants in the program, thereby fulfilling their commitment for receiving the original animal. The people receiving new animals from their neighbors certainly showed joy on their faces, new hope for something better. Someone cared.Continue reading
A letter from Doug Baker in Northern Ireland
Do you ever wonder where your day—or your week—has gone and how what you actually ended up doing fits with what you thought you were going to be doing or meant to be doing? I do almost constantly!
Last week I had scheduled appointments with two of the local ministers who are supervisors for PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteers. The agenda was to look at the needs and opportunities in their congregations and which of the volunteers coming in September to match with them. We did spend time on that. However, on each occasion the conversation then shifted to situations those ministers are facing themselves. The first is looking at a significant change in vocation and wanted to use me as a sounding board. We ended up spending quite a bit longer on that than on the YAV discussion. When I met with the other, once we had finished the YAV discussion the conversation shifted to a conflict situation being experienced with one of the lay leaders in that congregation. What a privilege to be trusted enough to discuss such matters.Continue reading
A letter from Debbie Blane in South Sudan
Greetings from Malakal! This morning I woke up to the sounds of a creature in my bedroom and upon investigating I found a little bat that had gotten stuck under one of my trunks. It managed to free itself and then led me on a “wild goose chase” around my room. I finally decided it wasn’t worth trying to squish the little thing to death and went back to bed.
The bats here are small and kind of like jellyfish; they do not have hard or solid bodies like cats and dogs, for instance. After I had played hide and seek with the bat the water man came. We have two types of water delivered here to the guesthouse. One is river water, which I assume comes straight from the Nile River. It is used for putting in the toilet, for washing clothes, baths and sometimes for washing dishes. The other kind of water is “clean” water. It has been treated and is apparently clean enough to drink; I however still put it through my Katadyn water purifier. The water that came this morning was the clean water. This is the water that I purify further for drinking; I use it for washing my hair and sometimes for washing dishes. The water is kept in two large water barrels and we scoop it out with plastic pitchers for using.Continue reading
A letter from Rebecca Young in Indonesia
Dear friends and family,
Indonesia is a vast archipelago, made up of 17,508 islands, that stretches farther than the distance from San Francisco to Bermuda. A large part of the islands were once covered by rain forest. Although the forest is being decimated at an alarming rate to sell the lumber, grow palm oil trees, and dig up coal, the Indonesian islands still serve as part of the “lungs of the world,” providing forests that recycle the world’s polluted air back into breathable oxygen again.
In addition to deforestation, Indonesia as a nation is facing a huge problem that in the past the U.S. has also faced: what to do with the trash that is piling up. Like New York City, there have been barges sailing around the islands with nowhere to unload their cargo of trash. Indonesia doesn’t have the anti-littering laws and cleanup campaigns that the U.S. has. If you think about how much littering goes on in the U.S. even with laws and campaigns, imagine how much worse it might be without them. The most appalling sign I have seen here was one that read, “Keep our town clean. Throw your trash in the river.”Continue reading
Thank You and Your Family for serving God by taking His word so far from Your Home.
God is doing his work and using us a tools in other nations.during my working here in Athens i observed that there are many oppertunities to share the Gospel massage with other those do not know Jesus and we can bring them to Jesus Christ.Please prayer for me that i'm a very littel to that God is using me here in Athens Greece. God bless you.